At the first State of Black and Brown Wisconsin address in Madison Monday, members of the Black and Latino Caucus focused on the racial disparities that continue to challenge the advancement of people of color in the state.
The lawmakers highlighted disparities in housing, education, health and employment.
One of the participants was Milwaukee state Sen. LaTonya Johnson. She shared statistics that illustrate disparities in education between black and brown children, versus white children.
Johnson said the differences are significant -- and serious.
“According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014 and 2015 the graduation rate in Wisconsin was 88 percent while African Americans experienced a 64 percent graduation rate. The graduation rate for white students is 93 percent. The gap is 29 percent between white and African American students. Sixty-four percent grad rate for African Americans, 93 percent for our white students. This is the largest gap between white and African American student graduation rates in the nation."
Johnson also talked about health outcomes among children of color. She pointed to troubling infant mortality figures.
While African American births account for only 10 percent of the total in Wisconsin, nearly 25 percent of the babies who die are black, Johnson said.
The black unemployment rate, meanwhile, was one of the things on the mind of Milwaukee state Representative David Bowen. He said 44 percent of black children live in poverty compared to 11 percent of white children.
Bowen said the numbers did not improve during the first year of Donald Trump's presidency.
“President Trump claims to have delivered results for black Americans, but here in Wisconsin, black unemployment is still at recession type levels," he said. "Above 10 percent and three times greater than white unemployment. That’s about 1 in 8 black adults are seeking, but not finding the ability to work.”
Lawmakers can do more to connect people to jobs, Bowen said. “There are things that we definitely can do to make sure employment reaches all areas of this state, especially in chronic unemployed areas of this state.”
For his part in the address, Milwaukee state Rep. Leon Young focused on the lack of decent, affordable housing.
He said in the last decade, many of the homes that went into foreclosure were owned by African Americans or Latinos and now, many of the houses have been turned into rental properties.
Young said it's been hard to get home ownership numbers back up again, among people of color. “When people apply for loans, 18 percent of white Americans are being denied versus 35 percent of black Americans that’s being denied housing loans. So we have to do a better job working with the banks so that we can improve the overall rate for bank loans.”
Members of the Black and Latino Caucus did not suggest immediate legislation or policies that could reduce racial disparities in Wisconsin. But they said as they address the issues, they'll need all hands on deck.
Audio and photos courtesy of WisconsinEye.
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